Fancy an active holiday with no flying and a hip twist? Rosie Barcroft and her partner packed the car with snowboards and set the GPS to St. Anton, Austria
A line of snowboarders snaked down the piste before sliding to a stop, showering the front row of spectators with snow. “Put your hands together for the Snowboard Academy,” said the compere, and the crowd obliged, throwing in a cheeky wolf whistle for good measure.
Joe, my snowboarding partner, and I (a skier), raised our hands and whooped. We were watching the Ski Show in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria, where a group of talented instructors were demonstrating how the sport has changed through the ages, illuminated by light displays and accompanied by funky Euro-pop music. I was fascinated to see how brown suits, wooden skis and one large pole had slowly turned into top hats and two awkward looking sticks, before morphing and branching out into the snowboarding we know (and love) today.
However, a few months earlier, the sight of snowboards had caused a very different reaction: “You want to take five snowboards to St Anton?” I said to Joe as he lined them up carefully against the wall of his living room. “Five???” I repeated, even though I knew my protests were pointless.
“You drove here in one day?” asked the apartment owner. We nodded and he flashed us a quick grin, reaching for the Schnapps
It turned out that he had grown attached to this alternative family of five (of all shapes and sizes) and couldn’t bear to leave any of his beloved snowboards behind. It was an argument I would never win. And one that meant flying to Austria was out of the question (with companies charging circa £54 return for winter-sports equipment).
The solution? A ferry from Dover to Dunkirk followed by a 10-hour drive (600 miles) in Sylvester (our silver VW Golf) across France, Belgium and Germany, before reaching Austria, and driving through an incredibly long tunnel (which costs €9.50 per car) to St Anton.
After 11 hours (we had to stop at Burger King), we arrived in the beautiful Tyrolean resort, full of pink, red and orange buildings. Our snow tyres gripped the icy roads as we navigated our way to Gästehaus Kolp, a self-catering apartment in the neighbouring village of St. Jakob.
“You drove here in one day?” asked Andrew Edeltraud, the owner, a mixture of disbelief and concern showing through his black-rimmed glasses. We nodded, and he flashed us a quick grin, reaching for the peach flavoured Schnapps.
For those unfamiliar with St. Anton, it’s part of the sprawling Arlberg region. Also comprising the nearby resort of Lech-Zürs, the area offers more than 340 km of slopes, a huge amount of exciting off-piste and a wide variety of après ski bars.
Next year, a new cable car will link Zürs to Stuben, meaning Arlberg will become the largest connected ski area in Austria, and skiing from St. Anton to Lech will be possible – until this happens, Joe and I appreciated having the car handy.
After exploring the pistes, powder and bars of St. Anton – where we became regulars on quieter blue and red runs under the Ulmer Hütte restaurant, constant customers on the Valluga cable car (incredible off piste from the top) and reliable patrons of the new Gampen restaurant (cooling beers and panoramic views) – we drove 30 minutes up the mountain to Zürs, keen to make full use of the region (and our lift passes which cost €252 / £195 pp for six days).
It was after investigating Zürs that we found ourselves at the Ski Show, which takes place every Wednesday at 9pm at the Karl Schranz Stadium in St. Anton. The day had been spent enjoying heated seats on chair lifts, creating copious amounts of fresh tracks in the light snow, and sipping creamy hot chocolate while sampling cinnamon-sprinkled apple strudel. Needless to say, we were feeling incredibly content as we watched the exciting demonstrations while chatting to the friendly locals, many of whom were eager to share their stories and recommendations.
One such local, Richard Aldous, had moved to St. Anton more than 10 years ago after falling in love with the resort. His life seemed to be one big adventure: from modelling to flying, and scuba diving to cycling.
His weathered blue eyes and snow-white hair glinted in the spotlights as he spoke, telling us to treat ourselves to a candlelight dinner at the Verwallstube mountain restaurant. “It’s at the top of the Galzig gondola, and the views are incredible. I’m actually going up on Saturday with some friends, if you’re around?”
Sadly, we were driving back towards Dunkirk by then. But before leaving the Ski Show, I asked him how he had managed to achieve so much. “Simple”, he replied. “Get a piece of paper, write down what you want, and just do it!”.
Well, I think more snowboarding in St. Anton will be featured at the top of my own “what I want” list…
How to get to St. Anton am Arlberg without flying:
If you fancy snowboarding in St. Anton, Austria, without taking a flight, you can follow in Rosie’s footsteps by booking a car ferry crossing from Dover to Dunkirk with DFDS Seaways.
From Dunkirk, the drive takes around 10 hours. Rosie’s route passed through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, before arriving in Austria.
For more information visit: www.stantonamarlberg.com/en
Words: Rosie Barcroft for Feet on the Ground
Images: Rosie Barcroft / St. Anton am Arlberg